Category Archives: #CSA

Sleep with Me Podcast: The Best Free App for Insomnia Relief

We’ve all experienced insomnia at some time in our lives. Whether caused by excitement over good life events or by anxiety over bad ones, this sleep disorder can hit children, teens, adults, and the elderly. Our racing thoughts about an impending wedding (or divorce), vacation, cross-country move, new job (or the loss of one), or approaching exams can keep us awake long after we’ve gone to bed or keep us from falling back asleep after we wake in the night. Many life events can trigger short-term or “acute” insomnia, as can common illnesses or other disorders and diseases. Colds and sinus infections can cause insomnia; migraine, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and Parkinson’s are all known to cause short bouts or extended periods of sleeplessness. Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can bring on this sleep disorder, though not necessarily for everyone: antihistamines, decongestants, anti-smoking aids, SSRIs for depression, and drugs to treat or control ADHD have all been known to trigger insomnia. Herbal remedies such as St. John’s Wort or ginseng can, for some users, interrupt or prevent sleep.

In both men and women, trauma, whether physical or emotional, can have lifetime negative health effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and insomnia, while childhood trauma, including divorce or sexual abuse, contribute to insomnia in childhood and adulthood. Even the blue light in our computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and flat-screen televisions has been found to cause insomnia when the devices are used too close to bedtime (or in the middle of the night upon awakening) because, though any light can suppress the hormone melatonin, involved in circadian rhythms of waking and sleeping, blue light suppresses melatonin more powerfully.

Apparently, the brain has its own, mutually exclusive, wake and sleep cycles: when one cycle is “on,” the other is “off.” Researchers are trying to determine whether insomnia may be due to the brain itself not being able to “stop being awake.” Since both the quantity and quality of sleep affects our health, and since insomnia can lead to “decreased quality of life, increased rates of depression, and even increased risk of heart disease,” insomnia, especially when it becomes chronic, should not be dismissed. Chronic insomnia, medically defined as an inability to fall or stay asleep for at least three nights a week for three months or longer, is not just extremely unpleasant: it’s dangerous to our mental and physical well-being.

As a survivor of childhood trauma, including sexual abuse and rape, I’ve suffered from insomnia from the time I was three years old. The insomnia worsened a few years ago, however, when I was taken off a class of drugs I’d been taking for complex PTSD and panic disorder: benzodiazepines, which had been deemed potentially dangerous for anyone over age 50. While withdrawing from the medication, I was literally not sleeping at all, day or night. In the past, prescription sleeping pills had worsened my insomnia, and my usual herbal sleep aid, valerian, wasn’t helping, even when I doubled and then tripled the dose. Desperate and fearing for my mental and physical health, I turned to the Internet, where, to my absolute astonishment, I found relief for my insomnia, the strangest relief I ever could have imagined: Drew Ackerman’s Sleep with Me Podcast.

Drew Ackerman, a life-time insomniac, has dedicated himself to helping fellow insomniacs fall asleep by telling “ingeniously boring bedtime stories,” causing plenty of adults, kids, and pets to fall asleep. Of course, that means you may not ever hear an entire story, but because Drew is a writer, and a good one, he makes each episode, as disjointed and haywire as it might seem, feel complete. That way, if you really can’t fall asleep some night, as happens to me during a migraine, for instance, Drew is there “to keep you company in the deep, dark night,” as he often assures you in the episode introductions.

Drew Ackerman, creator of Sleep with Me Podcast. Photo © Natalie Jennings.

Each Sleep with Me Podcast episode begins with an introduction, where Drew explains that you don’t really have to listen to him and that it’s perfectly all right if you fall asleep while he’s talking, and then he usually wanders off onto some tangent or other topic, just so you begin to wonder what he’s talking about… if you’re still awake. After 7-15 minutes of an introduction that is often as entertaining as the story which follows, Drew, performing as “Scooter,” tells a bedtime story, which lasts about 45 minutes, making each podcast episode approximately an hour long. “Your goal is not to get your listeners to stay with you to the finish,” Drew told The New York Times: “[Your goal] is to lose them [to sleep] along the way.” It’s this combination of slow, lulling delivery, seemingly pointless introductions, and rambling stories that make Sleep with Me Podcast such a success with its listeners, who download episodes about 3 million times each month.

Drew Ackerman. Photo © Chris Duffey

Most of the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes feature original stories written or improvised by Drew. To stay creatively motivated, Drew writes and tells various types of stories, some of which are developed into multi-episode series, like After the Glass Slipper, about Cinderella’s stepmother Agatha after Cinderella’s marriage to Prince Charming; Big Farm in the Sky PI, about a private investigator, Simon, working to solve mysteries in the afterlife; and SuperDull, about a group of superheroes sitting around waiting for their chance to save the earth whenever its greatest hour of need arrives.* (Links to the episodes mentioned here appear at the end of the article, for your reading ease.) Though some of the original series are comprised of multiple episodes, each episode of any series is independent: you don’t have to know any of the previous sections of a story to understand — and be put to sleep — by any current episode. And really, since the point of this wildly popular podcast is to make you fall asleep, it probably helps if you don’t know what happened to any of the characters in previous episodes.

Some episodes of “the podcast that puts you to sleep” are stand-alone stories, improvised stories based the social media trends, or re-caps of movies or television shows. During an episode of Sleep with Me Podcast, Drew has been known to open games and try to figure out how to play them without reading the instructions,* give you the entire chronicle of seltzer / sparkling water,* and tell you all about the history, the rides, and the food of the New York State Fair.*

In his Real Time Recipes,* which are among my favorites, Drew metaphorically walks you through grocery-shopping for all the items necessary to make the meal, and then talks you through preparing the meal. In his on-location* episodes, Drew talks while he’s actually walking around some public place (he has permission to record there). Initially, when I listened to these, the ambient sounds, though faint, prevented me from sleeping. Then I noticed I was waking up after having been asleep for a few hours despite any faint ambient noise. Now I love the on-location episodes, if only because Drew doesn’t perform these as Scooter: he simply tells us what’s going on as he roams around. Guided Meditations* are some of the most sleep-inducing episodes, if only because Drew slows his sleepy delivery even more than usual, and these are among the most popular episodes.

Photo © Drew Ackerman

Drew sometimes reveals some personal details about his life that were painful or especially exciting for him, and these episodes are some of the most endearing. You might think that listening to someone talk about his personal life and some of its painful events would keep you awake, but, because Drew’s delivery makes you fall asleep, I’ve often had to listen to these episodes several times to hear the personal information (and Drew sometimes hides these tidbits in stories that don’t seem to be autobiographical.)* And in case the changing seasons or the holidays give you insomnia, Drew has plenty of Halloween* and Christmas* episodes, too.

Some of the Drew’s bedtime stories are suitable-for-all-ages recaps of television dramas*. Though the shows themselves might deal with adult topics or include violent scenes, Drew soothes them all into all-age-appropriate bedtime tales. Of all the television series that have been recapped on Sleep with Me, I have only seen Game of Thrones, though I’ve happily been “bored” to sweet dreams by all of Drew’s recap-podcasts, including any episode of Game of Thrones / Game of Drones,* Breaking Bad, Star Trek: The Next Generation,* and Dr. Who.*

Drew has many stellar stand-alone episodes* that make me sleep better than any prescription or natural sleep aid ever did. I wish I could tell you what happened to the residents of the Lost Village when they discovered that the geography around their village had changed overnight,* or how to assemble a wall-bed,* but I’ve never managed to stay awake through either episode. And Sleep with Me Podcast retrospectives* cover the content of hundreds of previous episodes, if Drew can remember what they were about.

The DreamQuilt, from SWM listeners, which inspired Drew’s story, “The Bear with a Comet on His Belly.” Photo © Drew Ackerman

One of my absolute favorite stories is the three-part The Bear with the Comet on His Belly* which was inspired by Drew’s listeners thanking him for “curing” their chronic insomnia by making him a quilt featuring images from his original stories: the DreamQuilt, Drew calls it.

Even when a Sleep with Me story is fascinating, I can’t stay awake long enough to hear it all, and that’s one of Drew’s gifts: writing engaging stories and delivering them with a “droning” — in the best sense of the word — delivery by “Scooter” so you drift off into dreams. The first time I ever listened to a Sleep with Me Podcast episode, I didn’t even know there was a story at the end. While listening to the introduction, I found myself thinking, “How on earth am I supposed to fall asleep to something that is so interesting?” When I awoke, hours later, and realized that I had, in fact, fallen asleep, I played the episode again. I fell asleep even more quickly the second time. The next night, I put the episode on and also queued it to play a second time — and I slept longer before awaking in the night. I began queueing up 7-10 episodes at a time, so they’d play all night long. Since I live in an isolated area where the Wi-Fi connection is unreliable at best, the podcast shuts off each time my Internet connection goes down, waking me up. Now, I’ve downloaded many of my favorite episodes, rather than streaming them, so that I can queue them up to play all night long without interruption.

Sleep with Me Podcast currently has over 755 episodes, all free, partly because of advertising (only in the first minutes of each episode) but mostly because of the financial support of the show’s patrons, whom Drew calls “rebels with a cause” because we pay for a free show so that others won’t have to. I’ve been one of those “rebel” patrons for five years now, ever since I realized that, listening to SWM all night long, I was sleeping better than I ever had in my life. Patrons get ad-free versions of the shows.

You can listen to any of the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes on the SWM website or subscribe for your device: Apple Podcasts, GooglePodcasts, RadioPublic (listen on site or send to iOS or Android devices), and Spotify. You can also listen to all the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes on its YouTube Channel. (Note: Because of the limitations of podcast apps, you may not be able to scroll back far enough to find some of the earlier episodes on your phone or tablet.

You can reach Drew — aka Scooter — on Twitter, where he is very responsive, and you can reach his equally responsive account managers, all volunteers, on Facebook.

Sweet dreams, my Lovelies.

Episodes mentioned in this article
(please note that this is not an exhaustive list of all 750+ episodes)

*Multi-episode series
• After the Glass Slipper: A Lesson in Opportunity to be like Cinderella s2e4
• Big Farm in the Sky PI: The Dog That Chased the Moon 553
• SuperDull: The Siren and the Professor 508

*Unboxing
• Fairytale Gloom Game Unboxing655
• Tokaido Unboxing 747

*Seltzer / Sparkling Water History
• Mars, Moranis, Curry Seltzer: Pitching Roman 689

*New York State Fair
• As Fair as a State Fair 692
• Fun Food and Fun Houses at the Great New York State Fair 695

*Real Time Recipes
• Under Pressure [Corned Beef] 652
• Salad 537
• Stuffing and Mashed Potatoes 474

*On-Location
• Kayak Cruze 588
• Lake Ontario: Can I Call You Teri 570
• Dusk featuring Slurp and DJ Echo Bass 540
• Faux Cousteau Visits Sea Life Orlando 522
Quasi-On-Location
(recorded shortly after visits, not during them)
• On Summer’s Horseback 594
• La Brea Tar Pits (534

*Guided Meditations
• Comforting Chair 576
• Sand’s Day at the Beach 564
• Bird Bath 395

*Autobiographical
• Things I Might Have Wrote as a Kid 591
• My Life with HBO 567
• Spruce Museum (introduction) 525
• Video Games and Me 501

*Christmas
• Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers 473
• The Christmas Tree that Took a Walk 468

*Halloween
• Costume Nostalgia 609
• Lulling Analysis of The Great Pumpkin 456

*Recaps

*Game of Thrones
• The Wolf and the Dragon” 584
• 7-Hour All Night Game of Thrones Season 7

*Star Trek: The Next Generation
• Elementary, Dear Data 557
• 10-Hour All Night All Night Star Trek: TNG Volumes 3 & 4

*Dr. Who
• Dickens and Dr. Who 625

*Stand-Alones
*Lost Village 442
*• Realtime Wall-Bed Assembly 433
*• Lulling Retrospective of the First 500 Shows 502

*The Bear with the Comet on His Belly
• Bear with a Comet on his Belly, Inspired by the Dreamquilt [Part 1] 414
• Sleeping Rude Gods [Part 2] 417
• The Local Borefriend [Finale] 418

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Filed under #CSA, chronic pain, health, Insomnia, Memoir, migraine, migraine self-care, migraines, Podcasts, Stories, Storytelling

Glue-Boy

His real name was Daniel David Davison III, but nobody called him that except Sister St. James and the principal every time he got sent to her office for disrupting class. He used to make fun of his own name all the time, saying, “3-D. I’m 3-D,” erupting into uncontrollable laughter. Since we were only third-graders, we didn’t get the joke at all, and he didn’t like to be called Daniel David Davison III, so we called him “Glue-Boy.”

First graders had to use paste spooned out of a communal tub. Second graders were allowed to have individual containers of paste that had to be stored on the shelves when not in use. As third graders, however, grown-ups that we were, we got to have our very own bottles of Elmer’s glue, which we were allowed to keep in our desks, and Daniel David Davison III could do amazing things with Elmer’s glue.

All day, every day, he’d paint elaborate glue-tattoos on the back of his hands and forearms. The glue was his paint, starkly white against the perpetually darker canvas of his skin. He created dragons and gargoyles, knights and castles, vampires and werewolves from his fingers to the edge of his stiffly ironed, short-sleeved white shirt. I sat beside him, in the last seat of the third row, and every day, he hunched over his bare desk, concentrating so hard on his fantastic designs that the tip of his tongue stuck out while the rest of us watched in silent admiration.

Sister St. James would be writing our lessons on the board or gazing out the windows at the river on the far side of the church next door, or sitting at her desk with her eyes closed while we did our reading assignments, and Glue-Boy would be covering all the bare skin on both his arms with swords and sorcerers, dinosaurs and treasures, pirates with ships flying flags with skull-and-crossbones. After he finished, he’d put the bottle of Elmer’s down on his desk, hold his arms out in front of him till all the glue dried, then turn and show us his creations.

Any time that Sister turned around from the board or her reverie at the windows, or woke from her afternoon nap and saw us all watching him instead of doing our work, she’d rush back to him, her ruler slashing the air. Glue-Boy protected his creations by bending forward over his desk, stretching his glue-covered arms beneath as Sister beat him mercilessly with the ruler. Then she’d march back up to the front of the room, collapse in her chair, and order us to put our heads down on our desks as punishment. After a few minutes had passed, we’d surreptitiously look over at him, and he’d smile, his head and forearms held high, not a single one of his glue-paintings destroyed.

One day on the playground during recess, I complimented Glue-Boy on his art. He nodded without even looking up at me, so I feared I’d annoyed him. Occasionally after that, however, he would find me on the playground and show me his latest work. As the year progressed, the colors got brighter and the designs became more complex. I thought all of them were beautiful, even if I didn’t know what they were.

Even when he started using paint instead of glue, covering his face and arms with gorgeous colors, he never lost the name “Glue-Boy.” Though Sister St. James ordered him to the Principal’s office every single time he came in with his face painted, though the Principal called his parents and demanded that all his paints be confiscated, though his desk in the classroom was finally isolated in the corner so that no one could be close to him, nothing stopped him from painting. The morning he came in with his hair dyed a multitude of colors, we gathered around him in awe while all the teachers and the principal ranted and threatened.

He was wonderful.

He was our hero.

I suppose we all suspected that, eventually, his body would not be a large enough canvas, so when he pulled a box of colored chalk out of his coat pocket during recess and began decorating the playground itself, no one seemed too surprised. Even the teachers had long since stopped trying to control him: we heard that his parents had threatened to withdraw him from the school and send him somewhere more exclusive.

And the teachers didn’t try to make me skip rope or run relay races with the other girls: they accepted that it was my job to hold Glue-Boy’s colored chalks while he worked. By the time the Monsignor came over from the church to watch, everyone had accepted that this was just the way of the world: this was Glue-Boy’s purpose in life. The principal and the Monsignor stood by in silence, watching as the colored chalk covered the exterior walls of the elementary school, in ever more fantastic and elaborate designs, as high as Glue-Boy could reach.

On the day I told Glue-Boy about my father and my divorced mother’s boyfriend, about what they did to me in the basement, in the garage, in my own bed late at night when my mother was asleep, Daniel David Davidson III offered to pour endless bottles of glue down their noses and mouths and throats and to keep pouring till the glue dried and hardened.

“Then,” he said, “they won’t be able to hurt you anymore.”

Glue-Boy was the first person who ever offered to protect me.

That made him my first love.

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© 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved.
No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
Though this chapter was in the early drafts of my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, it is not in the final version of the book.

Share

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Filed under #CSA, chronic pain, health, Insomnia, Memoir, migraine, migraine self-care, migraines, Podcasts, Stories, Storytelling

O Coward Conscience

Trigger Warning:
This post, though not graphic,
discusses childhood sexual abuse.

O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me…
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.


William Shakespeare
Richard III, 5:3:194, 208-210

In the middle of the night, in the middle of the closet, I pulled down all the clothes from the shelves and the hangers and covered myself with them. As my younger sister Amy slept in the bed next to mine, and our baby brother slept in his crib in the corner of our room, I dragged all the clothes, shoes, and toys over my legs, body, and face. Then I waited. I never knew how long it would take, so I just had to keep on waiting. Though I kept pinching my arms and legs to stay awake, I eventually fell asleep.

My stepfather’s cursing woke me. When I heard the noise of squeaking bedsprings, I knew he was in my empty bed. The lamp got knocked over, and my stepfather cursed again. His footsteps came toward the closet. I put both hands over my mouth to prevent any sound from escaping.

The door opened. His huge hand groped among the toys, clothes, and shoes. My heart was thumping so loud in my ears, I was sure he would hear it. I couldn’t see Fred’s face: just the dark silhouette of his head and body.

“If you’re in here, you better come out,” said Fred.
I didn’t move.

“I’m the one paying for all the food you eat, and I’m not even your real dad, so you owe me,” said Fred. “Your mom tricked me into marrying her, and I had to take you, too, because your real dad didn’t want you: you owe me.”
He leaned further in, yanking at the clothes.

“It’ll be your fault if I have to do Amy,” he said.
Still, I didn’t move.

Eventually, Fred left the closet and got into Amy’s bed. Her cry was immediately muffled by his hand over her mouth. When Fred finished, he said the same thing to Amy that he always said to me and, later, to Jimmy Lee, even though Jimmy Lee was his real son: This means I love you.

After Fred went back to his own room and Amy cried herself to sleep, I hit myself in the head over and over for being such a bad girl. For making him do Amy instead of letting him do me. I was the oldest, I was the biggest, I was the one who should be protecting Amy and Jimmy Lee. That was my job.

Sometimes, though, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

In the middle of my ninth year, in the middle of my first year with a stepfather, when I finally came out of the middle of the closet, my sister Amy looked at me with dead eyes. She never said anything about what Fred was doing: she just ran as soon as he came into a room. Sometimes, she ran so far and hid so well that it took us days to find her. When she was thirteen, she ran away and never came back.

I didn’t blame her.

I blamed myself.

While her own children were small, Amy often complained about Fred’s sexual abuse. I didn’t owe him anything, she said once, and then, one day several years later, without explanation, she simply stopped talking about it.

When I was giving an interview about one of my novels on a radio talk-show, the host asked what had inspired the “intense and unsettling exploration of violence” in my fiction. I told him about the sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of my father, stepfather, and mother.

Afterward, Amy called me up, hysterical. She told me that she’d phoned every member of the family and asked whether any of the things I’d said on the radio were true. She claimed that every single person in the entire family remembered things exactly the same way, and that none of it had happened the way I said. Furthermore, everyone said that I was a liar and a storyteller, and that I always had been.

“Were you trying to embarrass me?” said my sister.
“By saying that our parents abused us?”
“Our childhood was perfectly fine and normal,” said Amy.

For so many years, I felt guilty for hiding in the closet when Fred was looking for me. Guilty for hiding in the closet, in the garage, in the basement, in the crawlspace, under the cellar door. Guilty because whenever Fred couldn’t find me, he hurt Amy or Jimmy Lee like he’d been hurting me since I was five. Guilty because even though my own mother knew what Fred was doing, she did nothing to stop him, so I thought I somehow deserved his anger and abuse. Guilty because Fred said it was all my fault for hiding.

But I simply couldn’t stop hiding from him.

After all my years of therapy, I guess I don’t feel guilty any longer. But I still feel sad that I wasn’t strong enough to take it from Fred every night. Every day, too, if that’s what he wanted. Sometimes I think I should have let him do me, and me alone, every day and every night, if that’s what it took to protect my younger siblings.

Even if they say they don’t remember.

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M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, chapters 1-6

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© 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved.
No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
Though this chapter was in the early drafts of my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, it is not in the final version of the book.

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under #CSA, chronic pain, health, Insomnia, Memoir, migraine, migraine self-care, migraines, Podcasts, Stories, Storytelling

At the First Meeting of The Liars’ Club

Trigger Warning
Though not graphic,
this post discusses childhood sexual abuse.

I stood, mortified into silence, in front of my second-grade class. My teacher, a tall thin woman with size 17 feet, held me so hard by the shoulders that later that day, when I got home from school and changed out of my uniform, I would find bruises from where her fingers had gouged me. The rest of the class was sitting at their desks, hands folded on top, listening to Miss Slewinski, but staring at me.

“This little girl here,” said Miss Slewinski, “is a liar. She makes up stories about her Mommy and Daddy…”

“He’s not my dad,” I said. “My real dad isn’t allowed…”

Miss Slewinski cuffed me on the side of the head.

“I called Sascha’s mother yesterday and asked her to come in and talk to me,” she said. “Her mother is a very nice woman. Do you know what she did when I told her all the terrible things Sascha has been saying?”

The entire class obediently shook their heads.

“What did your mother do when she heard about your lies, Sascha?” said Miss Slewinski, digging her fingers even deeper as she shook me. “What? Say it louder. So the whole class can hear you.”

“Cried,” I said.

“Yes. She cried. Sascha’s mother, one of the nicest women I’ve ever met, sat right here in this room and cried like her heart was broken. All because of this girl. This liar. She’s such a liar that I’m naming her the president of The Liars’ Club.”

She let go of my shoulders and stood there, glaring down at me, her arms crossed over her flat chest.

“Sascha’s going to stand here for an hour. Because she’s such a liar. Because she tells such awful stories about her parents. The rest of you aren’t going to do any work: you’re just going to sit there and stare at this terrible liar. But anybody else who wants to join The Liars’ Club can come right on up here and stand beside her.”

Miss Slewinski sat at her desk. I stood perfectly motionless in front of the class while they stared at me. Some of the girls in the class made faces at me whenever the teacher turned around to write something on the board. My hands were in such tight fists that my bones ached. My teeth were clenched so hard that my jaw throbbed. I wanted to die. I wanted them to die. I was so filled with rage that I wanted to get hold of a knife and stab every single one of them to death. Especially Miss Slewinski.

What were the terrible stories and lies I’d told which got me inducted into The Liars’ Club?

That my father did bad things to me. (I was too young to know the word “rape,” so I called it “bad things.”) That he wasn’t allowed to see me anymore because he’d done bad things to me so many times. That the judge had believed me when we were alone in his office and had asked me to show him, by pointing to my body, exactly where my father did bad things to me. That my father wasn’t allowed to even be in the same room with me when I visited his parents — my grandparents — though he’d gone back to live with them after the divorce.

What else had I told my second-grade teacher after she saw my inner thighs and asked me how I got all those terrible bruises?

That my mother’s boyfriend — who wouldn’t become her husband for at least three more years — did the same bad things to me every single night. That my mother knew all about the bad things my father and her boyfriend did to me. That my mother said it was all my fault, that she said I acted like a “cockette,” but I didn’t know what that word meant. That every time my mother caught one of them hurting me, she hurt me even worse than they did.

Miss Slewinski had promised me that she’d never tell anyone what I told her, she’d said she would help me find a new home, she said she’d do whatever it took to protect me.

Then Miss Slewinski called my mother into school and told her all the things I’d said.

“She’s such a storyteller,” said my mother, as she burst into tears. “She’s been a terrible liar since the day she was born.”

So, next day, there I was, in front of my second-grade class, during the inaugural meeting of The Liars’ Club, where I was the only member.

That first meeting lasted just an hour, yet it haunted me the rest of my life. Liar, said the girls in my ear when we were in line for religion class. Liar, said the boys when I passed them on my way to the locker in the hallway to get my coat after school. Liar, they all said when were out on the playground every day after lunch. Liar.

In that first meeting of The Liars’ Club, I learned everything there is to know about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Probably more than Einstein himself ever knew.

And that’s the truth.

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© 2014, 2018, 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved.
No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
Though this chapter was in the early drafts of my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, it is not in the final version of the book.

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Filed under #CSA, chronic pain, health, Insomnia, Memoir, migraine, migraine self-care, migraines, Podcasts, Stories, Storytelling

Head-Banger’s Ball: Escaping Abuse the Hard Way

Trigger Warning
This post, though not graphic,
discusses childhood sexual abuse.

Life is unbearable,
but death is not so pleasant either.
Russian Proverb

I was dancing when it happened. After almost four years, I’d just had the braces removed from my legs and, in my joy at being free, I was dancing all around the kitchen and the empty dining room, wearing nothing but my panties and a camisole. My father was there, drinking beer, watching me, following me all around the house. I thought he was impressed with my improvised ballet skills. I don’t remember where my mother was, though I do know that it was late at night.

When my father grabbed me and began kissing me, I squirmed and twisted away. I wanted to dance, not kiss. Besides, I didn’t like the way he was kissing me, putting his nasty tongue all over my face and mouth. I fought hard enough to make him lose hold of me. When he tried to grab me again, I ran to the kitchen and got under the table, trying to hide.

Unfortunately, he found me.

My biological father first raped me when I was 3. My mother walked in when it was happening, and had to beat my father over the head to make him stop. Instead of taking me for medical attention, my mother told me I was a “bad girl” and locked me in the closet until I stopped crying. I don’t know how many days I was in that closet, but it seemed longer than any lifetime. I couldn’t understand what I’d done, but I vowed never to forget.

As soon as I earned my freedom from that closet, I  began telling people that my father had done something bad to me. I told family members, neighbors, doctors, nurses — anyone I thought could punish him. Anyone I thought could make him stop hurting me, which he continued to do. No one listened until I was 4 or 5 years old, when a Judge, in his chambers, asked me to show him — by pointing to my body — where my father was hurting me.

I don’t remember what events led up to that encounter in the Judge’s chambers, only that he was kind and patient, that he actually listened to me, and that after I talked to the Judge, my biological father lost all visitation rights. Furthermore, though I visited my father’s parents each weekend and though he now lived with them, he was not even permitted to be in the same room with me. I never saw my father again.

After my mother divorced my father, I thought I would be safe from men’s violence. Unfortunately, by the time I was 5, my mother was already dating a man who was sexually abusing me in every way imaginable, doing more atrocious things than my biological father had done. At the ripe old age of seven, after an entire lifetime of abuse from my mother, my father, and my mother’s boyfriend (who later became my stepfather), I decided that life was unbearable, so I decided to kill myself.

My only problem was that I wasn’t exactly sure how someone did that. During the last violent fight with my father, my mother had slammed him in the head with a cast-iron skillet. I’d seen him lying motionless on the floor, surrounded by a pool of blood. When the police arrived, my mother told them she’d killed her husband because he’d killed me. Though my father actually survived the assault, he was seriously injured. Because I never saw him again, I thought he was, in fact, dead. Since my mother had “killed” my father by bashing him in the head with the cast-iron frying pan, I decided, at the world-weary age of seven, to become a head-banger.

Swing-sets, telephone poles, brick houses. Fence posts, church pews, marble statues. Bang, bang, bang. Walls, bedposts, porch supports. Basement floors, steel pipes, tree trunks. Bang, bang, bang.

I hit my head so hard so many times in a row that mostly I walked around in a daze. Sometimes I hit my head so hard that I fell asleep. Each time that head-banging numbness rushed over me, I was convinced I’d successfully killed myself, and I was so relieved and so grateful that I could never be hurt again that I slipped into that deadened sleep with something like joy.

Each time, however, I woke up.
Disappointed.
With an unbearable headache.
And with dreadful pressure in my skull.

Although many people know that a baby’s skull plates move — to allow it to pass through the birth canal — they don’t realize that the plates of the skull remain mobile throughout life. The brain and the spinal cord, furthermore, are surrounded by their own pulsing, hydraulic system that does not match the rhythm of the heart, breathing, or any other system of the body. Dr. John Upledger discovered this brain-spinal-cord hydraulic system and named it the “craniosacral system.” Upledger went on to develop a medical massage therapy designed to put the craniosacral system back in proper alignment.

When the plates of the skull are not in their proper position, as from any common injury such as bumping the head hard, then headaches and pressure inside the skull (from the non-circulation of craniosacral fluid) may occur. A severe head trauma, or even a minor fall from a slide or swing, can shift or jam the skull plates, preventing the craniosacral fluid from moving as it is designed to do, creating a tremendous build-up of pressure — and pain — inside the skull. The pain and the pressure will only stop when the skull plates are restored to their normal positions, something that may take many sessions with trained craniosacral therapists, especially if the skull plates have been jammed for years after some serious accident.

Of course, in my case, it was many accidents, some of them caused by my repeated head-banging at age 7, some of those accidents caused by my mother from the time I was born, but one of the most serious head injuries caused by my father during an argument with my mother.

My parents were both drunk the day it happened. They were standing in the living room, quite close to each other, screaming and shoving and hitting each other. My father suddenly shouted something that made my mother jump at him, clawing at his face. Then he began choking her. Since what he’d shouted had been about me, I must have felt, even at three years old, morally obligated to separate them. So there I was, shoving myself between their knees, trying to push them apart so they wouldn’t kill each other and leave me all alone to be sent to an orphanage.

In his drunken rage, my father must have perceived me as quite a pest, something you just fling away from you. So that’s what he did. He grabbed me under the arms, lifted me as high as he could, and flung me away. I remember the sudden rush of air as he swept me upward, the terrible, mind-numbing fear, the choking sensation I felt as he released me and I flew, without a net, across the room.

I remember the horrific jolt of pain as I smashed the upper right side of my head against the marble mantel of the fireplace.

I remember, too, the cold blackness that descended on me in an instant.

By the time my migraines got so debilitating that my family doctor recommended I go to craniosacral therapists, I was over forty years old. As soon as they touched my head, the medical therapists informed me that the right frontal skull-plate was “significantly jammed” under the left one. It was wedged under the other one so tightly, they couldn’t fix it in one treatment. Also, since it was a long-standing injury, they informed me, the muscles of my face and head had gotten used to holding the plate in the incorrect position. They agreed with the doctor that, though my tendency toward migraines was probably hereditary * as well, the jammed frontal skull plate wasn’t making the migraines any better.

The therapists warned me that, as they attempted, over several sessions (which turned into several months), to free the wedged cranial plate from under the other one, my migraines might get much worse before they improved. They were absolutely right. I’d been having about seventeen migraines a month when I went to see them. The first month of treatment, I had twenty-seven migraines. It took them five months of three-times-a-week sessions to get the jammed skull plates back into place.

When the skull plates moved back into their proper positions, the intense and unremitting pressure in my head disappeared. The pressure that I’d grown up with and assumed was normal had been caused by the craniosacral fluid’s inability to circulate freely around the skull plates and the spinal column. As soon as the right frontal plate slid free of the left one, the crushing pressure inside my head disappeared. I lay on the massage table and wept in gratitude and relief.

When I told my psychologist about all the times I’d banged my head when I was a little girl, trying to kill myself, she said she doubted that I’d really been attempting to commit suicide. She said that since I was so determined and so successful in other areas of my life, if I’d really been trying to kill myself, I probably would have succeeded. She said that I’d been in so much emotional and psychological pain that I was merely trying to medicate myself. Since I didn’t have any healthy coping skills, I’d banged my head against the hardest things I could find, to “numb” my pain.

I still maintain that I was trying to kill myself in order to escape the incessant torture from my mother and my rapist stepfather, and to atone for my father’s murder, which I believed I’d caused since my parents had been fighting about me when my mother “killed” my father with the cast-iron skillet.

You see, that day, when my mother killed my father by slamming him in the face with the skillet, they were fighting about me. That day, when my father said the words that sent my other into her uncontrollable rage — making her scratch his face, which then made him choke her — he was talking about me. The words he said were what I myself had been saying to my mother, family members, neighbors, and doctors for some time, though I said it like this: He does bad things to me.

That day, my father said it to my mother himself, despite her already knowing what he was doing to me, but he said it in a way that she couldn’t ignore. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I always remembered his exact words.

“Sascha’s a better fuck than you are.”

Bang, bang, bang.

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I Survived a Serial Killer: My Own Mother
(guest post on RachelintheOC)

Kevin’s Mother & The Pedophile:
Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse
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When is Rape NOT Rape?

Rape is Rape, No Matter the Victim’s Age or Gender



* Familial Hemiplegic Migraines (FHM) are caused by a genetic neurological disorder. I have FHM as well as from Complex Migraines.
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Note: a different version of this post was published in March 2017. This version has been updated.

a small portion of this post is adapted from my true crime memoir M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door © 2002, 2007, 2014, 2017 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved. No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author. Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.

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Filed under #CSA, chronic pain, health, Insomnia, Memoir, migraine, migraine self-care, migraines, Podcasts, Stories, Storytelling